"Life is better short, healthy and full": Lee Kuan Yew in a 1972 speech

"Life is better short, healthy and full": Lee Kuan Yew in a 1972 speech
PM Lee Hsien Loong delivering his eulogy at Mandai Crematorium.

SINGAPORE - In his eulogy for his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made reference to a speech the elder Mr Lee had made about growing old and death.

PM Lee said that the speech left such an impression on him that he could still remember it, 43 years later, even though no one else could recall it.

After finally finding the speech again, PM Lee said: "I re-read the speech with delight. It was vintage Lee Kuan Yew - thoughtful, erudite, elegant, witty, but with a deeper point."

He shared one quote from the speech: "Life is better short, healthy and full than long, unhealthy and dismal. We all have to die. I hope mine will be painless. As de Gaulle said: 'Never fear, even de Gaulle must die', and he did."

The speech was delivered by Mr Lee at the 5th Asian-Pacific Congress of Cardiology Delegates Dinner, on Oct 13, 1972 at the Shangri-La Hotel.

In the speech, the then-Prime Minister spoke about how he had previously been under the misconception that the heart should never be strained.

"So violent exercises like badminton and squash are to be eschewed. More leisurely ones unlikely to induce cardiac failure like golf or swimming are for me," he said.

But he then learned while playing golf with a surgeon friend that the heart should be pushed to its uttermost limits, which prompted him to try it out.

"I began to run, but gently, on the spot. Still no ill-effects. So I increased it day by day. Then one day after a round of golf, I ran for five minutes. Before that I got my surgeon to take my pulse rate. He said it was normal, 70 plus. After 5 minutes, "Marvellous, 140". After 3 to 4 minutes, back to 70 plus. Marvellous! Young man's heart was his verdict."

"If only I had known earlier I would have been younger at heart all these past years!" Mr Lee exclaimed.

Mr Lee also explained that he had ruled out medicine as a profession because "it was too noble", but called it a "marvellous profession".

"Patients are kept alive longer with tremendous leaps in knowledge, breakthroughs in both medication and surgery. And, of course, it creates more demands for services of doctors," he said.

But, he told his "captive audience" of 500 heart specialists that the kindest thing they could do for him, if he ever suffered a partial cardiac failure or a stroke, would be to let him die as painlessly as possible.

"Nothing is more pitiful than to have stroke after stroke after stroke, with each one, both physical movement and intellectual capacity reduced until one becomes a vegetable," he said.

Mr Lee ended the speech by saying: "There will never be a final solution to the problem of life and death, other than death itself.

"And whether it is philosophy or logic or medicine or morality or law, we are all human beings with human imperfections, both as individuals and as societies."

Read the full transcript of Mr Lee's speech here.


In my eulogy at the private service at Mandai yesterday (http://on.fb.me/1OP4e6Y), I mentioned my father's speech to a...

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, March 30, 2015



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